Somehow, perhaps magically, NASCAR got its 36 races in to satisfy the networks and get all the tracks, team owners, drivers, and crew members paid. In order to do so, sacrifices had to be made such as shortening each race weekend with no qualifying and no practice. Teams would just show up to the track, unload the car, and race.

Socializing also was cut to a minimum. And fans weren’t initially allowed back in until June, at a few places and it was only a couple hundred.

In order to keep the playoff dates intact, NASCAR had to cram together two races in a week. Racing on Wednesday or Thursday night was kind of cool. They also put two races into one weekend at Pocono, which was initially scheduled, but did the same for races at Dover and Michigan. They were running a season and learning pandemic protocols on the fly, implementing immediately, and it worked while the other sports leagues were watching from the sidelines.

NASCAR was the first sport back on live TV networks and there was something about it all that made me proud of the sport after going two months without anything. No work, either. But there was my good old buddy, NASCAR, helping me keep my sanity through self-quarantine.

So while Kevin Harvick was eliminated from the Championship 4 last week at Martinsville, he’ll always hold a special place in my memory for winning the first race back after the shutdown, May 17 at Darlington, a race more anticipated by me than any Daytona 500 after a cold winter. Three days later, NASCAR gave us another race at Darlington with Denny Hamlin winning. Those two drivers would be the underlying story of the summer with Harvick winning nine races and Hamlin winning seven, six after the shutdown.

Believe it or not, the 2020 NASCAR Cup season was my favorite seasons ever in any sport right there with UNLV basketball winning in 1990 and the Denver Broncos winning their first Super Bowl in 1998. Selfishly, I hate to see the season end Sunday, but all the teams need some rest after entertaining us all through the pandemic.

The final chapter of the season will be written Sunday at Phoenix with two Team Penske drivers, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, each looking to win their second Cup Championship while Hamlin and Chase Elliott will be looking for their first. The best finisher among those four will be the 2020 champ, but the last six Cup Champions have won the final race which had been at Homestead-Miami Speedway since 2002.

The dynamics of the Phoenix having the last race held on the relatively flat 1-mile layout is that it changes the criteria we’ve used to handicap the championship race. It used to be that we’d look at all the results from other 1.5-mile tracks or using a similar race package.